Appointment Of Municipal Prosecutor Raises Questions On Spending

One particular resolution missing from the municipal reorganization meeting on January 7th was the appointment of the municipal prosecutor. Last year the appointment was given to Russell Huegel after years – six years as a matter of fact – of Richard Huxford, the Borough Attorney, holding the position. While that, in and of itself, may not be significant, what is telling is that last year the governing body voted to have taxpayers pay $15,000 more than they previously did for the same contracted service.

Mr. Huxford, who works for Triarsi, Betancourt, Wukovits, & Dugan, remains the Borough Attorney and was re-appointed just this year for the fifth year in a row. As part of his firm’s proposal, the fee to perform the duties of municipal prosecutor was zero dollars ($0.00) and included in the firm’s fee of $50,000 as Borough Attorney. Even that fee, which has not changed since 2012, was less than the $63,700 that the previous Borough Attorney charged in 2011. In that same year, Mr. Huxford was appointed as municipal prosecutor for $13,000. In 2012, the appointment of Mr. Huxford saved taxpayers $26,700.

Currently, there is a postponement of appointing the municipal prosecutor for 2016. Mr. Huegel submitted a proposal to be appointed municipal prosecutor in 2016 for $19,000 – a $4,000 increase from last year. Last year, after being appointed municipal prosecutor for $15,000, Mr. Huegel during the year requested an increase in his fee but was denied by the governing body. Mr. Huxford’s firm this year, once again, included the responsibility of municipal prosecutor in its $50,000 flat rate for Borough Attorney; in effect charging taxpayers nothing to be their prosecutor.

As to the reason(s) why there has been a moment of hesitation from council to appoint the attorney who is already trusted with providing legal advise to the municipality and willing to charge nothing to be the municipal prosecutor, nothing was forthcoming either last year or now. There has been mention from a couple of members on dais that there might be some legal restriction to having one person be both the municipal attorney and prosecutor. NJSA 2B:25-4(g)(1) addresses such a scenario as allowable, stating:

Nothing in this act shall affect the appointment of municipal attorneys in accordance with N.J.S. 40A:9-139; provided, however, that a person appointed to the positions of both municipal prosecutor and municipal attorney shall be subject to all of the provisions of this act while serving in the capacity of municipal prosecutor.

Add to that the fact that for three (3) years Mr. Huxford was both the borough attorney and municipal prosecutor without any such charge being claimed.

Another possible reason given has been that with Mr. Huxford being in court, which is scheduled for Thursdays during the day, and having to attend a municipal meeting, scheduled every first and third Thursdays of any given month at night, might limit his counsel on the day of a meeting. This has been addressed in the past by holding a closed executive session before a public meeting which has occurred less than a handful of times in the last half decade. It should also be noted that agenda items that are not protected by the closed session exceptions to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) can – and have been – asked during the course of a meeting. In line with court and meetings falling on the same day, mention has been made that he might not be made available for a meeting due to court running late. The issue with this is that court is held in the same chambers as a municipal meeting which means a meeting cannot occur until court ends and, in the past five years, this has only happened once.

Last year another reason given for the change was that the municipality did not want one vendor or firm handling multiple positions but Neglia Engineering has multiple positions such as borough engineer, Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) engineer, and MLUB planner.

The final argument presented was that there was a possibility of Mr. Huxford having to excuse himself due to a conflict of interest with a defendant in a municipal court case and that necessitating to bring in an alternate municipal prosecutor but those services are conducted at no charge to the taxpayers.

While no one on the governing body, with five out of seven being Democrats, making any mention of a reason to appoint Mr. Huegel, a Democratic councilman in Fanwood, other than ‘wanting to go in a new direction’, the question of a political appointment should be asked or, least addressed to explain such a decision last year and possibly this year. From 2012 through 2014, the appointing of Mr. Huxford (who used to be a member of the Roselle Park Republican Municipal Committee until 2014) as both the borough attorney and municipal prosecutor has saved taxpayers $80,100. Last year the appointment of Mr. Huegel increased the burden to taxpayers by $15,000 and this year the initial proposal from Mr. Huegel was $19,000. If appointed again, this would cost taxpayers an additional $34,000. A second Request For Proposal (RFP) has been published with a ‘shall not exceed $15,000’ cap, supposedly to see if the fee can be brought from $19,000 back to $15,000. Even if this resulted in another proposal from Mr. Huegel at that rate, these would still be funds that could go towards a Christmas Holiday Parade, fireworks, or other community events or programs.

The deadline for submissions to the second RFP was yesterday, January 20th. There is no word as to whether the appointment will be on tonight’s agenda. The Mayor & Council meeting is scheduled for tonight, January 21st, at the Roselle Park Municipal Complex located at 110 East Westfield Avenue at 7 p.m.